Sunday, 16 July 2017

Track pioneers...

During the winter of 1892, while the club was coming to prominence on the country, plans were set in hand to promote an athletic meeting the next spring. These efforts were rewarded when four to five thousand spectators flocked to the London Athletic Club ground at Stamford Bridge on 7 May 1892 for the Essex Beagles meeting. Fort years later Herbert Pash, Vice President of the AAA and Chairman of the Essex County Association, looked back on that day when "as a very thin, pale and shy boy of 16 years and 10 months, I went to run at a very big Essex Beagles meeting at Stamford Bridge- There were 150 entries in the sprint and,240 in the mile." These successful Stamford Bridge meetings were pioneered by H W King, the club's Treasurer. The turnover, approaching a thousand pounds a year, almost made it a business, calling for extensive organising.

The programme of races at the 1892 meeting featured a two miles match where Beagles' new recruit James Kibblewhite was forced to concede defeat to Heath of the South London Harriers. But Kibblewhite made no mistake in the AAA championship four miles race two months later, winning in a fast time of 19 minutes 50.6 seconds. While this was the first championship success for a member of the Essex club, for Kibblewhite it was a sixth (and final) AAA title, following on from his hat-trick of victories in 1890 when he lifted the one, four and ten mile prizes, and his other mile wins both in 1889 and 1891.

James Kibblewhite, Wiltshire born in 1866, started a career spanning 10 seasons in 1884 - the last year as an amateur of his fellow Wiltshire athlete, Walter George, whose feats must have attracted the young Kibblewhite's attention. Kibblewhite burst on the scene in 1889 in the black vest of Spartan Harriers and on 31 August that year, running from scratch in a three miles handicap race at Stamford Bridge, he slashed 10 seconds off George's five-year old world best, coming home in 14 mins 29.6 seconds. Swindon based - where he worked at the Great Western Railway works - Kibblewhite reached the top by "persistent practice". During his long career he won prizes valued at £1200 and probably also pocketed a tidy sum in appearance money: there were few meetings where the star names were not paid the standard £5. Kibblewhite retired three years before the AAA's crackdown on his contemporaries in 1896, so he was able to end his career untainted by the tag 'professional'.

In Kibblewhite's final season of 1893 his club colleague, Charles Willers came to prominence. That summer, Willers took part in a series of fine races with Sid Thomas of Ranelagh, one of those later suspended for professionalism, and the Birchfield champion, Charles Pearce. Willers' place in the record books was gained at Paddington on 10 June 1893 when beating_ both Pearce and Thomas, the former Walthamstow Harrier beat Thomas'4 miles record with a 19 mins 33.8 seconds clocking. A month later at Northampton, Pearce beat Willers at the same distance in a famous race where the Birchfield man's supporters rushed onto the track impeding Willers. Such behaviour happened because the AAA were unable to prevent on-track betting, and partisan crowds sometimes interfered with the race if their favourite was under threat.

James Kibblewhite - the Beagles' first superstar (British Library)
Apart from these big names, other Beagles contributed to a successful track team. J H Pilmer was the victor in the 1897 AAA 100 yards race although it has to be admitted that the championships were sparsely attended that year following the AAA's blitz on professionals. At county level many frne wins were recorded in the Essex championships from the 1890's with four titles for E J Ottey in the quarter mile (1901-3) and 100 yards (1901), while club members dominated the mile event with 14 wins out of 19 between 1896 and 1914, with three victories apiece for J T Collins (1896-8), W G Collins (1903-5) and L D Drysdale (1906-8).

In 1895 three Beagles joined together on a notable occasion - the running of the first relay event in Britain - the "Flying Squadron" Relay race held at Stamford Bridge on 14 September 1895. Five clubs took part in the 2 mile race and the Beagles' team of Herbert Pash (440yds), A J C Watson (3/4 mile) and J T Collins (1 mile) placed fourth.

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